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October 25
Victims could now collect

October 2
Geoghan's sister hits guards

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September 27
Conviction erasure protested
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Guard ad seeks understanding

September 24
Inquiry: Druce beaten as child

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Letter: Druce abused as a boy

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Geoghan bore guards' abuse
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No new panel members seen

August 31
Geoghan panel to expand

Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

Hearing weighs church-victim pact

Cardinal Law expected to take witness stand

By Kathleen Burge and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/1/2002

Five months after it appeared that the first legal chapter of the priest sexual abuse scandal was ending, lawyers for a group of alleged victims and the church who agreed to a late-night, multimillion-dollar settlement are expected back in court today, asking a judge to decide whether they had a lasting agreement.

The hearing, slated to begin this morning, is rooted in the minutia of the $15 million to $30 million settlement agreement rather than the details of the alleged abuse of 86 victims by former priest John J. Geoghan. But it promises to be dramatic when Cardinal Bernard F. Law takes the witness stand, possibly tomorrow, in his first public courtroom appearance in the case.

Law's name and visage have become a public shorthand for the priest abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church. The nation's most senior prelate has already been deposed four times in various civil lawsuits filed by alleged sexual abuse victims.

But when he sits in the witness box, before television cameras and beside the judge, answering questions under oath, the public may get its most direct and detailed view of Law's understanding of the settlement.

At the hearing, which could last as long as seven days, lawyers for the archdiocese will describe the negotiated agreement as the first, tentative step toward a final settlement.

But lawyers for the alleged victims will accuse the archdiocese of fraud, for publicly embracing the agreement and then walking away.

Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney - who has suggested in the past that she thought there was an agreement - will scrutinize not only the settlement agreement but how those on both sides later described it publicly. No matter how she rules, the decision is likely to be appealed.

Sweeney has ruled that the archdiocese cannot argue that the settlement agreement is void because its finance council voted it down. The council exists only in canon law, she ruled, and has no role in a secular court.

Yesterday morning, the finance council, whose rejection of the settlement agreement in early May led to this hearing, held an unscheduled meeting on the controversy at the archdiocese's offices, according to individuals associated with the council. The individuals, who asked not to be identified, declined to say whether any votes were taken at the session.

Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined comment.

Lawyers on each side have listed 24 potential witnesses for the hearing, although they are expected to call fewer to the stand. Lawyers for the archdiocese have included a dozen news reporters as potential witnesses.

In their trial brief, lawyers for the archdiocese suggest that Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the alleged victims, told some reporters that the settlement had contingencies.

In March, after the settlement agreement was announced, the archdiocese released a statement quoting Law: ''This settlement is an important step in reaching closure for these victims who have long endured the damage done to them by John Geoghan.''

Two months later, after the archdiocesan finance council voted against the settlement, the archdiocese again released a statement, this time from Chancellor David W. Smith: ''Cardinal Law expressed his deep regret at the vote, particularly in light of the fact that the Finance Council had previously been briefed on the proposed settlement and had expressed, at the time, a desire to see it go forward.''

Yesterday, Sweeney rejected a plea from mediators who helped lawyers reach the settlement agreement not to testify at the hearing.

Last week, she had ordered the mediators to appear, saying they could be asked whether the parties had reached an agreement in March.

The mediators this week had asked Sweeney to rescind her order, arguing that their work is private.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 8/1/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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